I admit I wasn't sure what to expect from yet another go around of the Silver Star storyline. I largely wasn't happy with the changes from Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar: Silver Star Story because I felt it cheapened Ghaleon and reduced him to yet another generic villain trying to seize godhood for himself. Also, there was the implication that SSS was supposed to be what TSS couldn't because of system limitations. Considering I liked SSS less that was understandably something of an irritation.
But interestingly enough, with the arrival of Lunar Legend I was able to free my mind. With three versions now in existence I could safely say to myself that none of them are right, and like a real fairy tale, there are many variations, all as valid as the rest. The order of events in Lunar Legend is largely the same as SSS but there are enough differences that there are still some surprises.
Perhaps the most immediate surprise is how early in the game Nash shows up. This would have to be one of the very few games I've seen where you start out with an astonishing four characters already in your party. I know quite a few games start with three, but four just seems so much more crowded, especially when two of the characters are temp characters who won't even be around later on. Also, Luna's decision to accompany Alex on his journey comes about in entirely different way this time.
And then other things were cut, probably because of space limitations. Quark's cave is gone, fighting the fake Mel in the Meyrod forest is gone, etc. The overworld map has been reduced to moving a cursor around to select a destination, but since overworld encounters were already removed in SSS I don't consider this change to be of much consequence.
But surprisingly, some things were added. Though animated cut scenes are no longer possible, some of the cut scene stills are not present in either TSS or SSS. We get to see Alex and Luna's mother for the first time, a childhood version of Luna and Alex, and there's a good shot of Phacia and Xenobia in the midst of an argument. We also get to see a slightly different version of the scene in which Althena becomes mortal. Fittingly, Dyne, Ghaleon, and Lemia and Mel are present when Althena becomes human. I always thought it strange that only Dyne and Ghaleon were present for such a momentous decision (which did not exist in TSS), but in this one Lemia and Mel are actually holding Ghaleon back to prevent him from stopping Dyne.
Since this was the first Lunar game not translated by Working Designs, there was some concern in the Lunar fandom about how good the translation would be, and actually I don't think it was quite the huff some people made it out to be. There are some very poor word choices in some situations and occasions where a word is mistakenly left out, but for the most part it's on par with anything Working Designs did. It's not like the days when a gamer might question the translator's ability to speak English, though arguably one can still question their ability to proofread. As for the translation itself, the in-game humor is still present in full force, leading me to believe that it had always been there. Some of the Working Designs inventions such as the Cave of Trials and the Meryod hicks are gone, but the game is really no less for it. This is the first game where Nash accompanies Alex into Sub-Vane (due to a transporter accident), so making it a Cave of Trial might have been harder to pull off in this version anyway. And I liked the added history lesson I got when Nash explained that this Sub-Vane was the old Vane, and for those who read the manga, that means these are the ruins of Ghaleon's people who inhabited Vane before the humans took over.
And Ubisoft did something most translators don't do when a franchise jumps localization companies, and I really don't think they get enough credit for this. They actually kept the names used in the original translation, even the ones that were a complete change from the Japanese. I wouldn't have minded if Quark had remained Fidy instead of using the name Working Designs had given him, but Ubisoft went over and above the call in duty in keeping Fidy Quark, Killy Kyle, Pilia Fresca, and the many other names Lunar fans had grown used to hearing over the years.
Plot-wise Legend perhaps tripped up during the cutting to fit GBA proportions. Since I had played this story's previous incarnations I knew what was going on, but in this one Ghaleon's motivations are far murkier until after the Grindery scene. You really don't know why he's become a bad guy and starting kidnapping all these singers. (If there was one thing I wish Ubisoft hadn't carried over from Working Designs it's that awful designation of "songstress" for the singers.) I think Xenobia, Phacia, and Royce needed a little more explanation as well as it's not readily apparant who and what they are when they first reveal themselves to be bad guys. They don't even give their names. While Alex meets Royce and Phacia beforehand, Xenobia should have at least said who she was. Instead the novice player would have to gather the third one was Xenobia from townspeople dialogue.
Also, because the scope of the story was smaller, I think that having both Phacia and Royce was unnecessary. Phacia served a plot purpose, but Royce and Xenobia could've been used interchangably with no difference to the plot. Given that Royce's only distinction from her elder sister is that she's a fortuneteller I think she really should've been cut. She had a larger role in SSS, but most of what remains in Legend are things that were originally done solo by Xenobia in TSS.
The game itself is really cute. Though the townspeople's endless chatter has been toned down quite a bit in this version (some people actually only have one line of text!), the world has not lost its charm. Noriyuki Iwadare's musical score translates surprisingly well to the GBA format and I think there may even be some tracks unique to Lunar Legend. I was somewhat disappointed that Legend did not have its own soundtrack, but at least the music it has is very good. I don't know how they managed it, but Media Rings (the Japanese developer) even managed to squeeze in actual audio of Luna singing with minimal loss of quality.
Combat is fairly easy in this game, which is great because one of the things I despised in SSS was the combat difficulty. I don't need a fancy battle system as long as combat is quick and over with. It's still not as easy as the original TSS, but with proper equipment all but the toughest enemies can be taken out in a single round before they even attack. And for that I need say only two words: Wind Boots. Buy them as soon as you can, and as many as you can, and then for each set of Wind Boots equipped a character's number of attacks go up by two. It was quite sick near the end of the game where Alex had five attacks, Jessica had five attacks, and Kyle had five attacks, only Kyle rarely even got to fight before Alex and Jessica killed everything beforehand. Unfortunately the final dungeon enemies are fairly strong so all out brute force doesn't work as well, but up until that point it's quite useful.
Perhaps because of the GBA format, Media Rings saw fit to add a card collecting activity. For completists this means roughly another two or three hours' work depending on how lucky you are. Each monster in the game drops a trading card, but they don't every time you fight them and some monsters are rare. There were a handful of monsters for which I spent 30-45 minutes doing nothing but running around parts of the dungeon where I knew they would appear. Later in the game there are equipable Card Hunter accessories that increase the chances of a defeated monster dropping a card, but they still are not 100% guaranteed. Worse yet, perhaps as many as 50% of the dungeons are one time visits, so if you don't get the cards your first time around that's it. Oddly enough though, what stumped me was not the monster cards, but the characters cards which can only be bought in the Meribia coffee shop. For some reason there are five cards that just refuse to show up in the random selection and I think it's poor sport of Media Rings to have designed the game in this fashion. I had close to 400,000 silver in my final after the last boss save, but I've spent thousands of it and not see any of those five. There are other cards I thought were rare because I'd only see them perhaps once in every twenty times I checked the counter, but I'm even starting to get multiples of those without any sign of those five and that's just wrong.
Also in regards to the GBA format, I love seeing short dungeons. Especially since Lunar Legend was designed for a system meant to be used on the go, one would think that all the dungeons would be reasonably small. Most of them are. But for apparently no reason at all there are two very long dungeons that will take two hours or more to thoroughly navigate, even when your characters are consistently wiping out enemies in the first round of combat. Fortunately Lunar Legend can save anywhere, but it's just really irritating not being able to gauge how far away the end of the dungeon is.
Even given its flaws, Lunar Legend is probably one of the better RPGs for the GBA. I like it better than either of the Breath of Fires and Golden Sun. The game sports the cutest sprites anywhere and its hard to argue with them. And perhaps because I'm older now (it's been almost ten years since I played the original The Silver Star) I'm ready to go back to when being a kid and Dragonmaster at the same time was something to hope for.